From Ken Kesey
to William Shakespeare

by Ann O'Phelan

ON OCTOBER 7, The Laboratory Theater of Florida presented its first show of the season at Fort Myers’ historic Kiwanis Hall. This historic hall, standing on the corner of 2nd Street & Woodford Avenue, is magnificent enough to boast tall windows and crystal chandeliers, and small enough to offer an intimate space where the audience’s attention can be completely captured.

The opening show, ‘The Laramie Project’, directed by the Theater’s Vice-President, Louise Wigglesworth, is based on a true story about a gay college boy, Matthew Shepard who was kidnapped, tied to a fence, beaten, and left to die on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998. The show chronicles the life of a town after the incident, and is told through the voices and actions of the townspeople.

To encourage further thinking about the strong messages of the play, an informational board with images, notes, and photographs relating to the story stood at the entrance of the theater. Earlier in the week, the first of the Lab’s Speaker Series was held. The Series, held at 7pm Tuesdays during the opening week of each play, is designed to promote in-depth and topical discussions about current productions, and often features the playwright as well as actors.

It’s this kind of edgy topic, interesting story line, and community involvement that define The Laboratory Theater as offering something out of the ordinary.

Productions scheduled for the upcoming season include Ken Kesey’s ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next’, Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol’, Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and an adaptation of Albert Camus’ ‘The Plague’.

Through the effort of Annette Trossbach, the Theater’s Producing Artistic Director, and with the help of many talented actors and actresses, interested parties, and volunteers, the Theater is now in its third year. “Last year, we had about 60,000 volunteer hours that helped with everything from costumes to props to event management and grant-writing,” says Trossbach.

Trossbach was born near Munich, Germany, and grew up in Dusseldorf, Germany, a city that boasts a strong arts and culture tradition. “I was blessed to have the arts – theater, fine arts, architecture, music – permeating every aspect of my life”, says Trossbach, an accomplished actress who was classically trained in both directing and acting at East 15 Drama School in London .

Trossbach’s two brothers are both in education, which also made an impact on her career. One brother coordinates adult education; the other is a Special Forces trainer in the Army. “Education, self-defense, and martial arts were major themes in my upbringing,“ says Trossbach, who was certified in Unarmed, Rapier & Dagger, and Broadsword in London.

Starting in January, Trossbach, along with her instructor, Adam des Forges, from the U.K., will be teaching stage combat. An array of adult and children’s classes – from scene study to Shakespeare to playwrighting – will be also offered. Planned for this summer is also a children’s camp led by Clare Buchanan, another East 15 alum.

When it comes to directing, Trossbach’s approach is to tap into what she calls “the four springboards,” of actors to discover their characters. The springboards are: emotional, physical, intellectual and vocal. Well versed in various methods and manners of directing, Trossbach is able to connect to actors and actresses in a way that they can understand and relate to. This approach brings out their best performances, and allows room for interpretation.

Also founded by Trossbach, is the Gulf Coast Shakespeare Festival, a day of performances and activities for the entire family scheduled for November 19 at the Alliance for the Arts, located at 10091 McGregor Blvd. in Fort Myers. The Festival brings Shakespeare to life from 10am-6pm with dancers, actors, musicians, jugglers, and featuring workshops, demonstrations, presentations, and full-length plays.

Kym Yaeger Hoffman, the Festival’s Coordinator says, “This year the Festival has grown by leaps and bounds. We have added more performers and vendors.” Hoffman is also stage managing the Theater’s production of ‘Hamlet’ during the Festival, while her two young daughters, Baylei and Morganne, will be performing. “Adults and children alike love the Festival because it reflects Shakespeare in a way that is understandable. We use this Festival not only to entertain, but also to educate,” explains Hoffman, a teacher and actress who will play Romeo’s mother in the Theater’s upcoming performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

Future plans for The Laboratory Theater include efforts to create a permanent home in downtown Fort Myers. The Theater is actively raising money and community support to acquire the historic Hall of Fifty States, located on the riverfront in the downtown area, for the purpose of refurbishing the building and acquiring and building an educational annex on the adjacent land. To date, they have $153,000 in pledges. “I envision a classroom where we can teach Ballet for Actors, mime, maskwork and so forth,” says Trossbach, who would love to have those who are walking up and down Hendry Street have the ability to watch rehearsals in progress. “I want everyone to take ownership of, and come to expect, art in their lives.” •

from the November-December 2011 issue

Trossbach grew up in
Dusseldorf, Germany,
a city that boasts a strong
arts and culture tradition.
“I was blessed to have
the arts – theater, fine arts,
architecture, music –
permeating every aspect
of my life.”

The Laboratory Theater
of Florida
historic Kiwanis Hall
1634 Woodford Avenue
downtown Fort Myers